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    HomeInsightsO2 sets 1 October date for UK i-mode launch

    O2 sets 1 October date for UK i-mode launch

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    Follow-up to yesterday’s launch story

    O2 laid out its plans for its i-mode launch yesterday, saying the introduction of the service marks the culmination of nine months’ development work, and differentiates the operator in the crowded UK market.

    Grahame Riddell, O2’s head of i-mode marketing in the UK, said that operator-branded WAP services such as O2’s own O” Active and Vodafone live! had served a good purpose but tended to be based around event driven downloads of entertainment services such as ringtones and wallpaper. i-mode’s security and lightness of touch means it will become a transactional tool as well as infotainment service, attracting a new generation of m-commerce partners such as banks, Riddell said. He added that vastly improved commercial terms for content partners (they get to keep 86% versus WAP’s normal 50%) would also attract a host of official and non-official (off portal) content partners.

    Initially O2 is launching the service with four phones and 100 on-portal content partners. The mobile operator plans to offer two GPRS handsets from NEC at launch (the NEC 343i, which will cost £79.99 for pre-paid users; the NEC 411i for £99) while two will be available from Samsung by the end of October (the Samsung S500i for £249; and the Samsung Z320i 3G handset for £279.)

    Hugh Griffiths, head of data products and services at O2, said that O2 had considered Nokia and LG handsets but that customers had preferred the other models. There’s no reason to disbelieve this but it should perhaps be noted that NEC is also a critical network server supplier for O2’s i-mode launch.

    Amongst the content partners O2 seems most excited by Egg, and says other banks are queuing up to get a part of the action. Mobile Europe spoke to an Egg representative who said that at launch the mobile service would be limited to simple account enquiries. Actually moving money around would follow, he said, when all the security implications were sorted out. One of the concerns is mugging – the bank doesn’t want people to be forced to to transfer money to an account, so payments will only be possible to existing accounts in a user profile.

    As for pricing, the operator has opted for a per-meg pricing policy. It is charging £3 per Megabyte, which it says averages out at about 100 web pages. To us this looks like about 3p per page, which means that logging onto a bank home page, signing in and looking at your recent account transactions may cost around 10p. Service will be free at launch, though.

    O2 is planning an ambitious advertising campaign for i-mode (lots of TV plus 4,000 outdoor sites), its second biggest ever Riddell said, and is emphasising the exclusivity of its i-mode deal, as well as its strapline of the internet at the touch of a button.

    In an industry which has been terrified of the term mobile internet ever since O2’s progenitor BT Cellnet prematurely exhorted customers to surf the mobile net, that strapline alone tells its own story about the confidence O2 has in its service.

    As the operator itself admits, handsets are absolutely crucial, so ranging decisions will be followed closely, as will the issue of how the company will sell the new handsets through its channels.

    Hugh Griffiths said that O2 Active was the most successful data service outside of Asia, and will continue to receive investment. But it looks as if the WAP portal will be the repository of entertainment services and downloads, while i-mode will be attracting a host of subsriber and transactional partners.

    Around 70% of the content will be premium content, the operator expects, and no subscription service will cost more than £3 per month. Mobile Europe spoke to repesentatives from Conde Nast’s Glamour and GQ magazines, who said they would be charging £1 per month for access to exclusive mobile and web content. We also spoke to property site Rightmove.co.uk and mapping company streetmap.co.uk, the latter of whom was particularly interested in combining a 50p per month fee with location technology to offer “Where am I” services. The property company was also interested in location technology, but saw easy Internet access from mobile phones as crucial to increasing its own customers’ exposure to house hunters. All the content partners we spoke to agreed that development costs and skills demands were very light, being attracted to i-mode’s use of compact HTML, rather than other mark up languages.